Days 38 & 39: Yreka, CA
I’ve actually been dreading the writing of this blog. To keep it cliché, let me just start off with…
It was a day that started off like any other. Well, better than most others. The Walmart that we found the night before was one block away from a Planet Fitness, one block from a Starbucks, and in the same parking lot as a Jiffy Lube, and it so happened that it was time for our bus to get an oil change. Nate had to work, and his schedule was still set to Eastern Standard Time, so he was up, showered, and over to Starbucks before any of us even thought of opening our eyes.
The rest of us woke up around 10, took care of our dailies, then headed over to the Starbucks for a bit of office time. Because Nate is still on east coast time, he was finished by 2:30, so we packed up shop and headed over to the Jiffy Lube. The decision was made to flush the transmission fluid as well as the oil, so once all that was done and we were all filled up on fuel, we were on our way toward Oakland.
The Oakland/San Francisco area was one that all of us were really looking forward to visiting. It’s one of the few major iconic areas left in the country that we haven’t yet been to. I personally was looking forward to spending the day in the Bay Area, seeing the Golden Gate Bridge for the first time, and maybe gettin a lil’ Rice-a-Roni for lunch to complete the experience. Unfortunately, those dreams came to a shocking halt shortly after we crossed the Northern California boarder. Less than a mile after we passed the exit for the town of Yreka our bus suddenly lost all acceleration. Root was driving, so he immediately threw on the hazard lights and coasted to a stop on the side of the highway.
Having broken down in our bus before, we all sat holding our breath while Root turned the key off, waited a minute, then tried to restart the bus. For 0.68 seconds I held on to the hope that maybe we had just a freak stall out and everything was fine. That fantasy was quickly smashed as the sound of the engine turning over but refusing to catch reverberated through my ears. We were stuck. Again.
Taking a minute to assess our predicament, my first thought was that things could be much worse. We were only about a mile past the last exit and there was an actual town there and, visible from where we were was a Walmart, and also tons of other familiar shop and store chains. I mean, it could have been a cold Sunday night in middle of nowhere North Carolina, with no possible access to food, water, or bathrooms for miles and crappy cell service to boot…. But civilization was near, and that left us with a shred of hope.
After a little bit of Googling, we found a diesel mechanic less than a half a mile away, as the crow flies. It was a Monday evening, about 8pm, and the shop was closed, but they sent over an on call mechanic to check things out. After an hour and a half of fiddling with some basic troubleshooting techniques he admitted defeat and decided to call their tow truck. The only truck that their company had available was one that typically hauls in big rigs, so our bus looked like an even shorter bus than it is once it was on top of the flatbed. They towed us down to the next exit south, and then back north to their shop along the backroads. When we arrived they dropped the bus near a power outlet so that we could at least have that luxury for the evening. We were told by the on call mechanic that the shop opened at 9am the next morning, and he also said that he felt confident that their diagnostic machines would hold the key to our getting back on the road and making our Oakland show. The only thing left to do was go to sleep.
Nate woke up early again and walked the mile or so to the local diner to get his work day underway. Tuesday is another big work day for him, so he was doing his best to not let the stress of our predicament get him too down. The rest of us woke up at 9 to try to ensure that our bus could get looked at straight away. Once they started checking things out there really wasn’t much reason to stand around, so Root and I set out to find the diner that Nate was at. By the time we got to the diner, ordered, and ate, Stevie G was on the phone telling us that we had to head back. The three of us walked back to the garage, the heat of the day now in full effect. The news that greeted us wasn’t terribly good.
After 3 hours of trial and error the mechanics had come up empty handed. They said they figured that the issue was one in the electrical system, but their shop only really worked on the mechanical issues. Their suggestion was for us to take it over to the Ford dealership because they felt under-qualified for the job. We weighed the options and decided that the Ford dealership was the best option. We called over to them and they said they could look at it before the day was thru but could make us no promises as to when we would be on the road. After being handed a surprisingly large bill considering the actual time the shop spent working on our bus, and the decided lack of any progress, we had the bus towed over to the dealership.
At this point we made the decision that there was no way that making the Oakland show that night was going to be a possibility. It marked the first time we’ve had to cancel a show for auto failure. Missing shows hits the band hard, so this decision added to the already melancholy mood.
The Ford dealership was just over a mile and a half away from where we were, so we hit the pavement again, walking on over there next. By now it was Monday afternoon, so once we checked in with the clerk, Root, Mochello, and I went exploring. We found a ‘Roadhouse’ restaurant, which in my opinion was false advertising. Being called a roadhouse evokes images in my mind of the Blues Brothers playing ‘Rawhide’ in a biker bar while being behind chain link fences that beer bottles are smashing off of. This place was the farthest from that concept as possible. It was an upper middle class burger house, very clean and well put together. The first best thing that the place had going for them is that their well whiskey was Jack Daniels, and only 3 bucks a drink (doubles to boot!), the second being that the owners husband was a stand up, cool guy. We chatted with him for a bit before we had to leave to get back to meet up at the dealership.
The update when the 3 of us got back was still sparse. A once over didn’t give the mechanics any ideas as to what the issue could be. They decided to push the bus into a back lot that wasn’t fenced in so that we could sleep in our bunks for the night. The back lot had an RV hookup, so we pushed the bus right beside it so we could have power for the night. The lot also had water spigots, so we lined up and, in unabashed full view, stripped down to shorts and washed the heat and the days worth of sweat and worry away. Feeling refreshed, we all headed off down the strip to find dinner.
About half a mile north of the dealership we found a pizza place to grab some dinner and wifi at. Nate tried to update his phone software to the latest version, but for some reason the update didn’t take, and it left his phone out of commission. It seemed as if it was one of those days that just kept getting ‘better and better’.
Undeterred, we came to the conclusion that the only way to counteract all the down emotions that were weighing on us was to find a place to have some fun. Across the way from the pizza shop was a true ‘roadhouse’. The small bar was empty, except for the owner, the bartender, and a wizened old Native American man.
In the name of fun, Root fired up the bars karaoke system and began MC’ing the night. At first no one was getting in to it. There was lots of ‘I’ll get up and sing if you do’ being thrown around. Personally, I’m not a singer. I’ve never done any sort of karaoke, and the last time I sung in front of any sort of crowd was my 5th grade music class’s mandatory performance. But, when a bet is placed down that I know is a shoe in for me to win, how could I pass that up? Nate bet me that I wouldn’t get up and perform, and if I did, he would do a shot for each of the first 3 that I did. The stipulation: they had to be Dave Matthews songs, which are something I knew but I can’t ever imagine reaching anywhere close to the high notes that tend to be in those songs. Once the gauntlet is thrown down though, there is nothing to do but rise to the occasion. Taking the bet, I set aside any care of embarrassment and tried my best to own it. I’m told that I actually didn’t make as much of a fool of myself as I feel I did, but I think the guys are just being polite. Either way, it served it’s purpose as the ice breaker, and soon everyone was taking their turn on the ridiculousness. Yes, I won the 3 shot bet, and all the guys wound up getting their sing on. At one point Adam laid down a beatbox beat and the old Native American gave what he said was his first ever public performance, freestyling a tribal chant.
We ended our night early (for us… We were headed back to the bus before midnight!). Instead of walking straight back to the bus, Root and I walked the extra mile to get some food at the Walmart before returning to go to sleep for the night. We had to be awake at 8am when the dealership opened so that we could push the bus back inside the fence and the mechanics could continue to work on solving our conundrum.
All of us taking a night off together definitely helped distract us from the looming uncertainty that was upon us. We had no idea on a time frame or even a general concept of what it would cost. What we did have, however, was a reinstilled sense of the fact that we were all in this together, and no matter what, we were going to make the best of it.